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MASKED SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY CARRIES ON BRILLIANTLY
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, November 15, 2020
In some ways the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 15 concert on YouTube resembled a Conceptual Art performance from the 1970s. On display were about 30 masked orchestral musicians playing six feet apart from each other on stage, some of them separated by plexiglass barriers. In the 1970s, the concept behi...
Chamber
SPLENDID STRINGS IN A SUNLIT GARDEN
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, November 1, 2020
A sun-drenched autumn afternoon, a Marin County garden and six superb string players from the Santa Rosa Symphony were manna from heaven to a pandemic-weary audience starved for live music. The sextet of Santa Rosa Symphony musicians performed to a small group of 20 Nov. 1, the day after Halloween....
Chamber
EXAMPLARY QUARTET PLAYING IN MARIN GARDEN CONCERT
by Terry McNeill
Thursday, October 22, 2020
Taped video concerts have pretty much dominated the recent fare for classical music fans, but sporadic live music making can still be found in the North Bay with outdoor chamber music. Of course with the obligatory social distancing and often decorative facial masks. Four San Francisco Opera Orc...
Chamber
VIDEO CHAMBER MUSIC FROM LINCOLN CENTER IN GREEN'S BROADCAST
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, October 17, 2020
Along with hosting its resident the Santa Rosa Symphony, Weill Hall has contracted to produce sporadic virtual programs of classical music, and began Oct. 17 with a charming three-part concert from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in New York. Hosted with comely introductions by CMSLC di...
Symphony
THRILLING SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY PERFORMANCE IN AN EMPTY WEILL HALL
by Steve Osborn
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Viewers of the Santa Rosa Symphony’s inaugural socially distanced YouTube concert on Oct. 11 could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon a performance of Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera” (A Masked Ball), given that the string players in the opening shot all wore black masks. The sole excepti...
Symphony
BROWN VIDEO GALA LAUNCHES SANTA ROSA SYMPHONY SEASON
by Terry McNeill
Saturday, September 12, 2020
Similar to many North Coast musical organizations the Santa Rosa Symphony has scheduled a series of virtual concerts on video, spotlighting sections of the orchestra and the exuberant activities of its conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong. However, as an introduction to the season, a Sept. 12 gala vide...
SONGS AND ECHOES OF HOME IN AIZURI QUARTET CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, March 8, 2020
From the first richly layered harmonies of Dvořák’s Cypresses, the Aizuri Quartet held the March 8th audience at Mt. Tamalpais Methodist Church in thrall. The church was more than half full, a good crowd considering present anxiety about the spread of the coronavirus. Taking precautions, the M...
COLORFUL BORN BACH AT AGAVE BAROQUE'S SCHROEDER HALL CONCERT
by Sonia Morse Tubridy
Friday, February 28, 2020
Bach’s obituary records that “Johann Sebastian Bach belongs to a family that seems to have received a love and aptitude for music as a gift of Nature to all its members in common.” Agave Baroque presented their Feb. 28 concert, Born Bach, as a partial musical story of several generations in this rem...
ECLECTIC VIOLIN AND PIANO WORKS IN VIRTUOSIC MILL VALLEY RECITAL
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Blending virtuosity with sublime artistry, violinist Alexander Sitkovetsky and pianist Wu Qian gave the Mill Valley Chamber Music Society audience many thrills February 23, performing four muscular and soulful works by four composers from four countries: de Falla, Schumann, Stravinsky, and Grieg. T...
PREMIER OF KAIZEN AND DRAMATIC MOZART HIGHLIGHT ECHO CHAMBER CONCERT
by Abby Wasserman
Sunday, February 16, 2020
As concertgoers took their seats in San Anselmo’s First Presbyterian Church for ECHO Chamber Orchestra’s February 16 program, they were surprised to see at center stage two bass drums, a tom-tom, bongos, high hat and cymbals. It was the occasion of the world premiere of "Kaizen," composed and perf...
SYMPHONY REVIEW
Santa Rosa Symphony / Saturday, May 11, 2013
Bruno Ferrandis, conductor; Olga Kern, piano

Pianist Olga Kern

A PERFECT 10 FOR THE TENTH

by Steve Osborn
Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Santa Rosa Symphony capped off its first year in the resplendent Green Music Center with an impassioned performance of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony, widely regarded as his masterpiece in the genre. Every section of the orchestra, from the lowest bass to the most stratospheric piccolo, played to the max, producing a lush, dense sound that filled the GMC's nearly full Weill Hall almost to bursting point.

The Shostakovich was a highlight of the season, matching or exceeding memorable performances earlier in the year of Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique," Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and Brahms' Symphony No. 3. In one sense, it was better than all of those, because--despite being 60 years old--it was probably new to most of the audience and made a strong case for the glories of modern repertoire.

Conductor Bruno Ferrandis chose an all-Russian program to build up to the Shostakovich. The concert opened with the all-too-brief prelude to "Khovanshchina," by Mussorgsky. Subtitled "Dawn on the Moscow River," this intensely lyrical work opens with a hushed figure in the violas that moves through the other strings and migrates to the clarinet, oboe and English horn. The playing was both ethereal and soothing, in keeping with the music's program. Sadly, it was over all too soon, ending up as more of a song than a full orchestral piece.

The full-blown orchestra arrived with the next number, Rachmaninoff's oft-performed Piano Concerto No. 2, this time with Russian pianist Olga Kern, winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. She entered from stage right in a floor-length red dress with a semi-open back, but her subsequent performance never quite matched the implicit fire of her bodily decor. She sat stiffly on the piano bench, her shoulders slightly stooped, her eyes fixated on the keyboard. In a work of intense Romanticism, she seemed to be more of an observer than a participant.

Kern's playing in the first movement lacked both projection and fluidity. She was often buried by the orchestra, and her phrases were disconnected. Instead of flowing into each other, they seemed isolated--fragments instead of a complete entity. The second movement was better, but again the piano didn't ring out, and the playing lacked fire. It was only in the third, with its unflaggingly popular melody, that Kern finally came to life, articulating each recurrence of the theme with authority and technical dazzle.

The relative disappointment of the Rachmaninoff was soon forgotten in the magnificent opening bars of the Shostakovich. Using the simplest of means--the first three notes of the minor scale--Shostakovich crafts a riveting and suspenseful tale, as the three-note figure begins in the cellos and moves throughout the orchestra, pausing briefly for a gorgeous clarinet solo, ably played here by Roy Zajac. The inexorable forward motion continues, leading to an arresting fortissimo section followed by a long decrescendo.

The playing throughout the movement was exemplary, nowhere more so than in a luscious post-fortissimo clarinet duet between Zajac and his colleague Mark Wardlaw. The duet led into an obsessive waltz highlighted by crisp unanimity from the strings, and then into a haunting conclusion for piccolo and drums.

If the first movement displayed the Symphony's expressive capabilities, the second showed off their ability to play at top speed with an unflagging beat. Ferrandis launched them into a relentless perpetual motion at top volume, and they never let up. The effect was both dazzling and intense.

Speed gave way to Shostakovich's elegantly simple phrases in the third movement, marked Allegretto. Sounding much like a string quartet, the fiddles and their kin acted as a perfect foil for beguiling solos from French hornist Alex Camphouse and English hornist Bennie Cottone. Despite the relatively slow tempo, the forward motion was compelling, thanks to Ferrandis's steady beat.

Both Shostakovich and the Symphony saved the best for last, with a thoroughly convincing reading of the final movement. The pace was again furious, and the pulse evident at all times. Ferrandis exerted great dynamic control, easing into pianissimos with as much authority as fortissimos. The many solos from woodwinds and brass were all well played, making the work a virtual concerto for orchestra. When it came, the ending was sheer drama. It was a great way to end the season, and it bodes well for the season to come.

[Reprinted by permission of San Francisco Classical Voice.]